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Serbia's Ana Ivanovic returns the ball to Shenay Perry of the United States during their Women's first round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. (Andrew Brownbill/AP)
Serbia's Ana Ivanovic returns the ball to Shenay Perry of the United States during their Women's first round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. (Andrew Brownbill/AP)

Match Tough

A humbling decline for Ivanovic Add to ...

Four years ago, Ana Ivanovic was the Rogers Cup champion in Montreal. Two years ago, she won the French Open and reached No. 1 in the WTA Tour rankings.

Next month, she plans to play the 2010 Rogers Cup in Montreal - in the qualifying.

It has been a humbling decline for the 22-year-old Serb, who seems to be able to hit her shots as well as ever but frequently goes through a kind of nervous misfiring of the synapses that leads to blatant unforced errors and an erratic ball toss on her serve.

Following a 6-3, 6-4 first-round loss at Wimbledon to Shahar Peer, Ivanovic's ranking fell from No. 45 to No. 64, putting her well outside the ranking needed for direct entry to the 56-player field for the Rogers Cup, beginning August 16 in Montreal.

She requested a main draw wild card but was denied.

Tennis Canada has three wild cards for the event and they are allocated by a selection committee in conjunction with the tournament director.

According to Montreal tournament director Eugene Lapierre, the decision about whether or not to give one to Ivanovic came down to what could be a possible choice between her and Stéphanie Dubois.

Dubois, currently ranked No. 125, is the No. 2 Canadian behind No. 50-ranked Aleksandra Wozniak, who will also require a wild card. The thinking is that Dubois, from nearby Laval, is as much of a draw in Montreal as Ivanovic.

While that has to be considered, the 2010 Rogers Cup has already suffered a pair of body blows, with world No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 13 Justine Henin, a Francophone with relatives in Montreal, both pulling out with injuries.

That leaves Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Ivanovic, and maybe a Jelena Jankovic or a Dinara Safina, as the only genuine marquee names. Tennis tournaments at the Rogers Cup level are based on the star power of their players, and they are the main reason there is $2-million in prize money.

Sharapova, Venus, Clijsters, Jankovic and Safina are all scheduled to play in Cincinnati the week before the Rogers Cup. Considering the current attrition rate among players, there is no guarantee all of them will make it to Montreal. In that case, Ivanovic's high-profile stature could become a prized asset for the tournament.

As things stand, Dubois, who will defend 110 ranking points in early August for winning the $75,000 (U.S.) Challenger event in Vancouver, could lose her No. 2 position for a wild card if she does not do well there, and/or if the No. 3 Canadian, Sharon Fichman, No. 4, Heidi El Tabakh, or No. 5, Valérie Tétreault, were to post good enough results to overtake her.

That would be unfortunate for Dubois, but she has had five previous Rogers Cup wild cards and surely Ivanovic is a more valuable to the event, especially in the bigger picture.

"I have very fond memories of Montreal, because it's where I won my first Tier I title three years ago," she writes on her website. "It's a unique city: French is the official language here, and there are many Parisian-style cafes. It feels weird to be in North America when everyone is speaking French, but I must say that I like it - it's interesting. I like to stay in the centre of the city, where there are some excellent French restaurants."

By the time the Rogers Cup begins, there should be a pretty good indication of whether or not Ivanovic is out of the funk that has seen her only twice win more than one match in 10 tournaments in 2010. That's because she is entered in Stanford (wild card), San Diego (wild card) and Cincinnati (possible wild card) in the three weeks leading into Montreal.

No matter how she does in those tournaments, and despite the importance of having a player from the local market, Ivanovic deserves a wild card based on her past record and her drawing power. A year ago, Kim Clijsters, starting her comeback, was given a wild card, ahead of a Canadian, for the Rogers Cup in Toronto.

She lasted three rounds, and played two thriller matches against Victoria Azarenka and Jankovic. Even if it seems unlikely now, if Ivanovic could do anything close to that this year, it would easily justify a decision to award her a wild card.

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